TL;DR – the best volleyball anime ever (drops microphone…)
For a sports anime to be elevated into greatness, it has to tick a lot of boxes for me.
Firstly the accuracy, as much as the animation, needs to be spot on. Sports animes such as Kuroko no Basket (basketball) and Yowamushi Pedal (cycling) have elements that are unrealistic or border on the fantastical. The animation looks great but when the characters have almost superhuman powers (as in Kuroko no Basket) or defy physics/gravity (as Midousuji Akira does in Yowamushi Pedal by cycling around a corner leaning an inch from the ground) then it’s no longer a sports anime.
Secondly, the story needs to engage and have a narrative that is more than just the sport itself, otherwise you might as well watch a live sports match rather than an animated one.
Thirdly, and generally all sports anime do this well, the characters need to be explored and have depth. There is a balancing act to this as sports anime often goes into long-winded backstory flashbacks that can sometimes take up more than one episode before returning to the present competition at hand.
Lastly, how the sports anime progresses when they’re not competing in a game is as critical as the sports action itself. Filling the gaps between tournament games/matches allows for greater story and character development, but this is also a balancing act and can detract or enhance the series accordingly.
For Haikyuu!! Season 1, it ticks all the above boxes. The story primarily focuses on two characters – Shoyo Hinata and Tobio Kageyama – who face each other in a volleyball tournament in junior high school.
Hinata is short, got red hair that reflects his competitive spirit, and can jump great heights and loves spiking the ball. He puts together a team in his junior high school that can’t really play volleyball but his enthusiasm is infectious and he builds a positive environment for his teammates to play together even if they can’t play well.
Kageyama is tall, got black hair and has a win-at-all-costs attitude that is a detriment to this team. He is a gifted setter (the player in volleyball that sets the ball before it gets spiked) and can control who he sets to with incredible precision. Unfortunately, he demands his teammates to be quicker and stronger to meet his standards. Unlike Hinata’s team, Kageyama’s team is actually good at volleyball and their junior high school has a strong volleyball program, but his teammates soon despise Kageyama for his dictator-like attitude to playing and essentially sapping out any joy in the game.
In the first episode, Kageyama’s team crushes Hinata and his teammates but Kageyama sees the fire in Hinata and can’t understand why he isn’t playing on a better team. They are rivals but there is a begrudging respect for the competitive spirit in each other. Fast forward to the next year, and it turns out that Hinata and Kageyama have joined the same high school – Karasuno – much to their disbelief. What follows is a heated and humorous unfolding of their rivalry while also seeking to build chemistry with the rest of their Karasuno teammates.
If after 17 minutes and 30 seconds of the first episode, you aren’t grabbed by this anime then don’t bother watching the rest of the series. It was an adrenaline rush of the highest level. A build up leading to a moment of animation that I knew meant I was watching a sports anime that had the promise of greatness. The rest of season 1 delivers on this promise as we follow Karasuno and the trials they face on and off the court leading to a brilliant practice match against Aoba Johsai high school.
If you want to watch a sports anime, that isn’t just good but great, then this is the one.
10 out of 10.